I hear this often after I’ve suggested that when training your dog in an area where there are distractions, the person might want to bring a higher value treat in order to compete for the dog’s attention. I usually recommend meat or cheese.
In training, food is a tool used to get a dog to do something and then to reward them when they do it. Asking a puppy to “Sit” and “Stay” around 10 other puppies off-leash playing is a very tall order, so you better have a tool that is going to outweigh that distraction in the initial learning stage of training. You wouldn’t use a tiny, lightweight nailing hammer when you needed to drive a stake. You’d use a sledgehammer. (If my husband is reading this, he should be fairly impressed with my hammer reference!)
My standard reply to the “people food” thought is:
When food comes from someone’s plate to the dog under the table, it’s reasonable for the dog to believe that hanging out under the table will get him further food. In fact, if dog kibble came from the table periodically, a dog would start to wait for that opportunity just as if it was our food.
If nothing ever comes from the table, a dog will not see it as a place that pays. Even better, if when a family eats, the dog gets a food-filled Kong on their bed across the room, they won’t happen to get a miscellaneous dropping of food AND it’s very rewarding to stay on their bed when all the people sit at the table.
One more thought: You’ll notice that I use quotes around “people food” throughout this article. That’s because it’s important to remember that dog food is made from, well, food. In fact, with the increase in dog food quality over the years, you will see many foods’ ingredients include: meat, brown rice, vegetables, fruits, etc. As you can see, those are foods we enjoy, as well. The wet food that I add to my dog’s food looks like a stew that I would make with chunks of chicken and whole veggies. It’s packaged in a dog food can, but a dog would be hard pressed to see the difference between that and a stew that humans eat EXCEPT that the wet food only goes in his bowl. It never comes from the table.
That said, this does not condone over feeding your dogs. If you are going to use chicken or cheese to train, be sure that their meals are smaller to balance out the treats.
Also, please be sure to check out food that is toxic to dogs such as onions, grapes, avocado, chocolate and macadamia nuts, just to name a few.